Nov. 8, 2020

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25


One thing is clear to me: a lot of the little league dads I got to know while Charley spent all those years discerning that in truth he didn’t really like baseball do not share my political views.  They have expressed this mostly on Facebook, which I didn’t really join for political views, and from which I cannot entirely separate myself for some reason.  In the past, say, when Charley was on the Redwings hitting balls off tees, political opinions never came up.  It never would have occurred to us.  We were baseball parents, rooting our own kids on, encouraging the others, laughing together about the ones who preferred to pick dandelions in the infield, commiserating over the chaos of snack stand responsibilities, and enjoying a new season of life together as parents of cute little kids.  We bonded.  But now, a number of them freely post derisive and ugly comments without thought to the possibility that I played catch with their children.  Or, there are times when their comments seem so rooted in what strikes me as blindness that I question if we actually laughed together when a child hit the ball and then ran with pleasure up the third base line.  (But, I suppose they would think I was blind too.)

Back then if political differences ever came up I’m sure it wouldn’t have changed a thing.  Now however, political differences feel almost intolerable.  When we think of our enemies we think of those on the opposite side of the political divide, not necessarily those who have done us wrong personally, but those who disagree with us, those who don’t seem to care about what we care about, or those who believe in very different solutions.  There are enemies all around us now and the world we live in feels like a different place.

I wrote this sermon on Thursday, assuming we would be mired in election contention still today and that I would still be feeling many of the same fears, anxieties, and angers that I was feeling before.  Plus, I assumed that if I was feeling them you were likely feeling them too, regardless of your political inclinations.  Here it is Sunday, and though the election is seemingly settled, it’s hard to say the same about the state of dialogue or perception in our country.

I organized Wednesday’s Midweek Boost around the thought that in such times it is hard to hear a word from God.  It’s hard to get a sense of what God is up to when our emotions are running so hot.  So, I thought we could practice Lectio Divina together, which is a way of praying the scripture and allowing God to speak to us through it.  We used today’s passage from Joshua, which comes at the very end of the book after Israel has moved into Canaan and divvied up its land.  In response to these events Joshua calls the people to declare their commitment and renew their loyalty to the Lord.

Lectio works in stages.  You read the passage once, listening for a word or phrase that stands out.  You do it again, thinking “why those particular words for me.”  You read it a third time and you ask if perhaps God has an answer for you.

The line that first spoke to me was Israel’s declaration: “We will serve the Lord.”  The second reading added to it just a bit.  It was verse 14: “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity.”  I thought about the word sincerity.  What now, in these heightened times of division, does it mean to serve with sincerity?  It occurred to me that it meant more than right actions.  Sincerity meant a deeper kind of investment.  So, after the third reading I asked God about it and what I heard when I asked, “How should I serve you with sincerity?” was simply enough the response, “Love your enemies.”

Interestingly, I later turned to one of my preaching heroes, David Lose, to see what he was thinking about for Sunday.  Here’s a piece of what he wrote:

“I think that in the wake of all that takes place (took place) on November the 3rd, and after months of acrimony and accusation, perhaps the fundamental question before the folks listening to us on Sunday is this: can we regard those in our congregation who voted differently than we did as fellow and faithful Christians? And, more broadly, can we regard those in our larger community and country as fellow children of God, deserving of not just God’s love – which is promised! – but of our respect as well? And, by doing this, leave judgment to the Lord?

Now, before you say, “Sure,” think what we’re talking about. There’s a lot at stake in this election. Few people are on the fence, and many on both sides of the political spectrum have declared this a choice between good and evil. So, picture the folks who support the candidate that you simply can’t imagine leading the country and now answer whether you can still regard them as God’s beloved children. Similarly, if you’re tempted to say, “Sorry, I just can’t,” be reminded that Jesus’ own disciples included someone who had worked for the Romans, another who stole from the common purse and betrayed Jesus, another who promised to follow Jesus to the very end and then not only deserted him but denied him. And then, perhaps a moment’s reflection on where each of us falls short is in order, too. Finally, perhaps wonder whether, if we find ourselves imagining that God can only redeem those like us, are we perhaps, just maybe, possibly, underestimating the capacity of the one who created light from darkness and raised Jesus from the dead?”[1]

I’ve been thinking a bit about expectations.  What is it we hope for from our politicians and what is it we hope for from God?  I think it is reasonable to have pretty strong expectations for both, actually.  But, when I start thinking about what God should do, when I’m really in a state of discernment, what I generally discover is that I’m a part of it; I’m a part of whatever solution I’m discovering.  I think our nation needs to heal.  I think we need to stop seeing one another as enemies.  And, I think that outcome depends on me, and lots of other me’s (meaning all of us) who are willing to hear that call from God and somehow live it out.  I’m pretty sure there’s no recipe or common prescription for loving our enemies.  We’ll just find ourselves in the place of choosing to do so according to our circumstances.  And, what I think is that as we choose it we’ll find God at work and the world will be a better place.